Catecismo salvaje/Catecismo moreninho. Wilson Alves-Bezerra. Jesús Montoya, tr. Cali, Colombia: El Taller Blanco Ediciones, 2021. 60 pages.
El Taller Blanco Ediciones shook up its catalog at the beginning of 2021 with the publication of Wilson Alves-Bezerra’s Catecismo salvaje/Catecismo moreninho1 [SP: Savage catechism /PT: Dark-skinned catechism2], translated by Jesús Montoya. Wilson Alves-Bezerra is a poet, translator of great names in Latin American literature (like Horacio Quiroga and Alfonsina Storni), literary critic, and professor of literature in Brazil at the Federal University of São Carlos. Catecismo moreninho is the fifth book written by this author, who started to occupy a prominent place in Brazilian literature when he won the Jabuti Prize in 2016, one of the most important literary awards in Brazil, with his book Vertigens [PT: Vertigo] (poems in prose, Iluminuras, 2015).
A Colombian publishing house, a bilingual book, a Brazilian author, and a Venezuelan translator. This is the publishing process for this book born during the pandemic, a process that somehow reflects the migration of voices supported by the book in its translated poems in “Portuzuelan,” making it a separate book from the Brazilian version, not just because it’s a selection of poems from other works―there isn’t an equivalent Brazilian version―but because the bilingual version turns it into a new artistic product. Jesús Montoya speaks to this as he recalls Haroldo de Campos’ idea of “transcreation”: “As a translator, I transfigure the voice, I stay close and then distance myself from it, from its rhythm and rupture as an audible experience. Catecismo salvaje is a transcriação [PT: transcreation] in migration, what is falado, dito, inscrito na voz [PT: spoken, said, inscribed in the voice], is multifaceted in Portuzuelan from the sign as transfer.” Wilson Alves-Bezerra’s Catecismo salvaje/Catecismo moreninho is a translation mounted on an echo chamber of different languages and registers, but also of similar experiences between the author and his translator. The Brazilian author’s militarized background reverberates in the translator’s Venezuelan life experiences, as he himself notes in the prologue: “For me, the re-creation and articulation of the resonance chamber is a suggestively appropriative way to also use it as a means to echo current Venezuelan violence by tracing it.”
Wilson Alves-Bezerra’s book is a book that is being published during a politically terrifying time in Brazil (and in Venezuela) and in the midst of a pandemic. It’s a book of poems where all phrases appear together and are taken to the extreme, explaining present-day Brazil to the person who, according to one of the book’s verses, might seem to think that “poems are useless.” In this sense, it could be said that Catecismo salvaje/Catecismo moreninho is a book entirely based on the idea of satire. Satire, by definition, is a play on the text and on certain extratextual elements; it’s a literary form that points directly to an outside that is considered questionable and wants to be ridiculed. Satire is created by using a distancing from a social and moral aspect that works as a backdrop under the implicit message that seems to say, “we can no longer take this reality seriously.” This doubling definitely aims to produce a mobilizing effect: destabilizing discourse, breaking convictions, and carving out niches in the status quo.
The satirized voices that reverberate in this book, as grotesque as they may be, do not fail to reveal all their cruelty, but they turn, at the same time, in this gesture, into a despicable ensemble. Wilson Alves-Bezerra’s book brings us face to face with the words of a torturer, of a pedophile, of “brasileños huevones” [SP: fucking stupid Brazilians] who think “que aunque el presidente siga matando mujeres, / indios, negros y maricas con sus frases milicas, / vamos a seguir perdonándolo como cabras, / porque el presidente es un hombre como cualquier otro, / un tipo normal, del pueblo, / asustando de la boca para afuera / a uno que otro monstruo” [SP: that even though the president keeps killing women, / Indians, Blacks and fags with his milica3 phrases, / we’ll keep forgiving him like sheep, / because the president is a man like any other, / a normal guy, of the people, / that through lip service frightens / a monster here and there]. These are voices heard from basements of torture, that tunnel with other tortures and dictatorships of our America, taking us also to the Chile of the “pacos” [pejorative for national law enforcement police officers in Chilean SP, roughly equivalent to “pigs”] who have recently blinded those who easily turn into statistics, while others visit the National Stadium.
Wilson Alves-Bezerra’s book is a resonance chamber where voices that reverberate and spread in all their splendor explain the Brazil of recent years—one that we Brazilianists cannot fully understand, but that was always there, shouting; that Brazil whose most practiced sport is that which the author calls “tiro al negro” [SP: shoot at the black man4] and not the Oswaldian “anthropophagy” nor the “pau brasil.”5 Modernism cannot be used to understand it, the “pau brasil” [PT: Brazilwood], that tree that gave the country its name and the title to one of the most important works in Brazilian modernism that is, in reality, “El pau do Brasil” [PT: the wood of Brazil],” Brazil’s dick, like the title of another one of the author’s books (poems in prose, Urutau, 2016-2020, five editions in Brazil, two in Portugal), and how it’s developed in a different way by the poem titled “Oda nacional” [SP: National Ode] in Catecismo salvaje/Catecismo moreninho:
Brasil es un país del futuro
Del bebé que nació muerto
Del bebé jodido y mal pagado.
Brasil es torcido
La recta es la nueva curva
La burka es el nuevo bikini.
El fin de todo es la nueva alborada.
Brazil is a country of the future
Of the stillborn baby
Of the fucked and poorly paid baby.
Brazil is twisted
The straight line is the new curve
The burka is the new bikini.
The end of everything is the new daybreak.]
Going back to the last verse of this poem, it’s possible to think that the book is written starting from the end. Besides, it is not entirely a book; rather, it starts off as a CD (which can be accessed on YouTube). It is in these audios where the author himself practices cross-dressing his vocal cords as a vehicle for downloading the sinister voices that surround him, to the beat of a musical rhythm that accompanies that state of shock, prolonging it perhaps up until the written word we read in this publication. We are dealing with a published book that is, above all, a process without copyrights (the book can be downloaded for free from the publisher’s webpage) and that, we hope, will soon be read as a satire of the discourse that made up a Brazil we don’t want ever again.
Translated by Mireille Mariansky
1 Translator’s note: This is a bilingual text that mixes Spanish and Portuguese in the same sentence and even in the title. The English translations will indicate SP for Spanish and PT for Portuguese.
2 Translator’s note: Dark-skinned is used as a loose translation of moreninho in PT, which is similar to morenito in SP. It’s the diminutive for a brown- or dark-skinned person and has different connotations. It can also be a euphemism for a black person.
3 Translator’s note: Milico or milica in SP is used by civilians as a pejorative term to refer to soldiers or the military and comes from the history of military dictatorships throughout Latin America.
4 Translator’s note: This is a play on words from tiro al blanco in SP, which can mean target practice, archery, or darts, but literally translates to shoot at the white man.
5 Translator’s note: This is a reference to Oswald de Andrade’s article “Manifesto da poesia pau-brasil,” translated from PT as Manifesto of Pau-Brazil Poetry or Manifesto of Brazilwood Poetry.